Sourcing professionals who gathered in San Francisco today for Spark, the annual conference of strategic sourcing vendor Scout RFP, may have noticed some differences from previous years, following its recent acquisition by cloud applications giant Workday. Not least the presence of a huge Workday pavilion on the exhibition floor and an appearance by Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri in this morning's opening keynote. But there's been a big change in Scout's ambitions too.
Bhusri entered into the spirit of things, at one point donning a captain's hat that Scout co-founder and CEO Alex Yakubovich had worn earlier to set a nautical theme for the event — of which more later. Bhusri's main message was one of reassurance — emphasizing the shared values of the two companies, pointing to their strategic alignment around giving business leaders better insight across sourcing and spend, and citing the experience of Adaptive Insight, acquired in 2018, as evidence that Scout will retain its independence and vendor neutrality under Workday's wing.
None of this was news to anyone who's been paying attention to what Workday and Scout have been saying since the acquisition was announced. But it would be wrong to assume therefore that nothing has changed as a result of the acquisition. For one thing, Spark has twice the number of attendees as last year, with registrations spiking after the acquisition became known. For many, the Workday pavilion will be their first close look at Workday's existing procure-to-pay product. Closer integration between that product and Scout's strategic sourcing solution is key to Scout's broader ambition.
That ambition was given a nautical theme for the event, keying off — or should that be 'quaying' — its location at Pier 27, San Francisco's cruise ship terminal. The sourcing 'voyage' across software adoption, use of data, team structures and best practices form the session topics, with a strong focus on customers sharing their own experiences — from Hudson’s Bay and Levi Strauss to Jet Blue, S&P Global, Twitter and Uber.
Charting the sourcing voyage
Scout's own voyage now has broader horizons thanks to the Workday acquisition, according to co-founder and President Stan Garber. Being part of Workday will allow for further investment in making the integration of source-to-pay processes and data more seamless, taking advantage of the spend data that Workday holds to inform sourcing decisions. But the lessons learned there will develop "muscle memory" that Scout will go on to apply to integration with other procurement systems such as Oracle and SAP Ariba, he explains. The ambition is to be the sourcing system that best fits into any spend landscape in order to get to a single source of truth for sourcing:
You have a lot of this data living in a lot of different places. Part of the conversation is how companies centralize that view. What's the view on strategically managing your sourcing? Is the objective savings, or delivery of a product? Do we have the suppliers in one system of record to do that?
He makes the comparison to Salesforce as the accepted system of record for customer information. Scout's ambition is to become the equivalent for spend:
You can work in many systems but what is the one system of record? For sourcing and procurement that's still been a struggle.
That requires the right technology, but it's also a change of mindset for people working in procurement, he adds.
In the past it's been a function that hasn't had a lot of love. It's about bringing in the right experts, the change management conversation. Software is the enabler, it's not the end.
Sourcing and procurement has tended to be back of the line for investment in automation, but the need for greater agility across business is starting to change that. Enterprises now want to understand how they can source more intelligently, and they can't answer that question without consistent data.
I find it particularly interesting to hear Scout starting to use the language of a system of record for spend, since that's a message I've also been hearing from category leader Coupa, which has formalized it in its concept of business spend management.
Workday's Bhusri has openly stated that Coupa's success was one of the factors that inspired the decision to acquire Scout. Perhaps behind that lies the recognition that there is an evolving market for solutions that can indeed use modern technology to provide a system of record for sourcing and spend. That is clearly now in Scout's sights — an ambitious goal, but one that with Workday's resources behind it may be within its grasp.